SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONIZATION ADOPTS TEXT REAFFIRMING SELF-DETERMINATION AS FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHT

11 June 2008
GA/COL/3177

SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONIZATION ADOPTS TEXT REAFFIRMING SELF-DETERMINATION AS FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHT

11 June 2008
General Assembly
GA/COL/3177
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Special Committee on GA/COL/3177

Decolonization

6th Meeting (AM)

SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONIZATION ADOPTS TEXT REAFFIRMING

SELF-DETERMINATION AS FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHT

 

Members Hear Petitioners on Western Sahara, Guam, United States Virgin Islands

The Special Committee on Decolonization today approved a two-part draft resolution on 11 Non-Self-Governing Territories, and heard petitioners on Western Sahara, Guam and the United States Virgin Islands.

By the terms of an “omnibus” draft entitled “Questions of American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands and the Untied Virgin Islands”, the Special Committee would recommend that the General Assembly reaffirm that, in the process of decolonization, and where there was no sovereignty dispute, there was no alternative to the principle of self-determination, which was also a fundamental human right.  The text also contained provisions concerning each of those Non-Self-Governing Territories.

According to the draft, the Assembly would reaffirm the responsibility of the administering Powers to promote the economic and social development of the Territories, and to preserve their cultural identity and natural environment, giving priority to the strengthening and diversification of their respective economies.  The Assembly would stress the importance of constitutional reviews in the Territories administered respectively by the United Kingdom and the United States, and decide to follow closely developments concerning their future political status.

As the Special Committee took up the question of Western Sahara, a representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente Polisario) said no progress had been made in negotiations between the parties, held in Manhasset, New York, owing to Morocco’s refusal yesterday to cooperate with the United Nations in implementing previous plans and its refusal today to discuss the proposal advanced by Frente Polisario in April 2007.  That proposal stressed the need for a referendum on self-determination, which would include the options of independence, integration or autonomy.  It also proposed negotiations on a preferential relationship with Morocco if the Saharan people opted for independence.  Morocco’s position left no other alternative than the continuation of the unacceptable status quo, which could have dangerous consequences for the ceasefire in place since 1991.

He noted that Security Council resolution 1813 of April 2008 had rejected some unexpected and surprising ideas offered by the Facilitator that international legality should be abandoned and substituted with the occupation of Western Sahara by a foreign force.  Those ideas advocated “political realism” to the detriment of international law and required a break with the Manhasset process, as well as a rupture from the legal basis for decolonization.  Such personal ideas, vented publicly, disqualified the Facilitator.  Western Sahara could not become an exception to the rule concerning the right of peoples and colonial countries to self-determination.

Also petitioning the Special Committee, an indigenous Chamorro woman from the island of Guam stressed the urgency of protecting her people’s right to self-determination in the face of intensified militarization by the administering Power, insisting that the United States’ $15 billion plans to further transform the Territory into a forward base had been developed without the informed consent and against the will of the Chamorro people.

“Let’s be clear,” she said.  “Massive militarization is not development in the best interests or with the consent of the indigenous people of Guam, and is in violation of the administering Power’s ‘sacred trust obligation’ under Article 73 of the United Nations Charter to ensure our transition from colonization to freedom.”  The military build-up would forever secure the political and cultural dispossession of Guam’s indigenous people.

A petitioner from the United States Virgin Islands appealed to the Special Committee to demand that the United Nations system comply with its directives on decolonization.  Territories committed to self-determination were deeply troubled that the United Nations appeared ready to abandon the decolonization process, “declare victory and move on”.

Also taking the floor today were representatives of Cuba and Venezuela.

The Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples -– also known as the “Special Committee of 24” -- will continue its work at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 12 June.

Background

The Special Committee met to hear petitioners regarding the questions of Western Sahara, Guam and the United States Virgin Islands.  It was also expected to consider the questions of American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Untied Virgin Islands.

Before the Special Committee was a draft resolution entitled “Questions of American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Untied Virgin Islands”, (document A/AC.109/2008/L.9), by which it would recommend that the General Assembly reaffirm that, in the process of decolonization and in the absence of a dispute over sovereignty, there is no alternative to the principle of self-determination, which is also a fundamental human right.

By other terms of the text, the Assembly would also reaffirm the responsibility of the administering Powers to promote the economic and social development of the Non-Self-Governing Territories and to preserve their cultural identity.  The Assembly would further request the Territories and the administering Powers to protect and conserve the environment of the Territories against any degradation.

Also by the draft, the Assembly would stress the importance of constitutional reviews in the Territories administered respectively by the United Kingdom and the United States, and decide to follow closely developments concerning their future political status.

Regarding Anguilla, the Assembly would welcome the report of the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission and the holding of public meetings in order to make recommendations to the administering Power, the United Kingdom, on proposed changes to the Territory’s Constitution.

It would also welcome the new constitution of the British Virgin Islands, which took effect in June 2007, and express appreciation for the efforts made to continue the work of the Inter-Virgin Islands Council to advance cooperation between the two neighbouring Territories.

The Assembly would, by other terms, welcome the work of the territorial Government and legislature of American Samoa on recommendations made by the Territory’s Future Political Status Study Commission regarding a constitutional convention.

As for Guam, the Assembly, aware that the Territory has established a non-binding plebiscite process for a self-determination vote by eligible Chamorro voters, would call once again upon the administering Power, the United States, to take the will of the Chamorro people, as expressed in the referendum of 1987, into account.  The administering Power and the territorial Government would be encouraged to enter into negotiations on the matter.

Further by the draft, the Assembly would welcome all efforts by the United Kingdom, the administering Power of Pitcairn, to devolve operational responsibilities to the territorial Government with a view to expanding self-government.

Aware of the ongoing constitutional convention, the fifth attempt by the United States Virgin Islands to review the Revised Organic Act, the Assembly would request the administering Power to help the territorial Government achieve its political, economic and social goals, in particular the successful conclusion of the constitutional convention exercise.   The Assembly would reiterate its call for the Territory’s inclusion in regional programmes of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), consistent with the participation of other Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Question of Western Sahara

RODRIGO MALMIERCA DIAZ ( Cuba) said the United Nations had reiterated repeatedly that the Western Sahara conflict was a decolonization issue, in which the Special Committee had a central role to play.  The Saharan people were the only people who could decide on their future, as underlined by more than 40 resolutions since Western Sahara’s inclusion on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.  Since the adoption of Security Council resolution 1754 (2007), the parties had carried out four rounds of negotiations, and hopefully they would continue to seek solutions compatible with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and Assembly resolution 1514 (XV)

Stressing that the Saharan people needed the support of the international community, he said his country had contributed to their development, especially in the area of education.  In response to the Assembly’s annual appeals that Member States offer study and training facilities to the inhabitants of Non-Self-Governing Territories, 600 Saharan students were studying in Cuba, which would continue to support a just and definitive solution to the question of Western Sahara, in conformity with the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

MARCO PALAVICINI-GUEDEZ ( Venezuela) said his Government wished to state emphatically its unreserved commitment to the sovereign right of Western Sahara to independence, according to relevant international decisions.  It was to be hoped that the will of the Saharan people would be fulfilled as quickly and peacefully as possible, and without any deviation from their natural rights.

AHMED BOUKHARI, representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Frente Polisario), said that, after Spain had withdrawn from Western Sahara in 1975, the General Assembly had called for an end to the occupation by Morocco, negotiations with Frente Polisario and a referendum on self-determination.  Since then, several peace plans had been proposed, including the 2003 Baker Plan, which had all been accepted by Frente Polisario.

He said Moroccan Prime Minister Karim Lamrani had told the General Assembly that his Government would respect the results of the referendum, but Morocco’s position had hardened since 2003.  It now proposed autonomy under “Moroccan sovereignty”, which implied the precondition that Western Sahara was an integral part of that country.  Neither the United Nations nor the African Union recognized Morocco’s territorial sovereignty over Western Sahara, as it had not even been the Territory’s administering Power.

He recalled that, in April 2007, Frente Polisario had submitted a possible political solution that would guarantee the right to self-determination of the Saharan people.  That proposal stressed the need for a self-determination referendum that would include the three options of independence, integration or autonomy.  If the result was to be independence, the parties could negotiate on a preferential relationship with Morocco in the security, trade and social spheres.

Since the Security Council’s adoption of resolution 1754 (2007), which called for negotiations without conditions and in good faith, four rounds of negotiations had taken place in Manhasset, he said.  Frente Polisario’s basic position had been to express its willingness to discuss those proposals in detail and to present them in a referendum to the Saharan people, as that would be the best way to move forward in line with all proposals and plans, including the Baker Plan.  However, yesterday’s refusal by Morocco to cooperate with the United Nations in implementing those plans, and its refusal today to discuss the Saharan proposal, left no alternative than the continuation of the unacceptable status quo, which could have dangerous consequences for the ceasefire that had been in place since 1991.  For that reason, the Manhasset negotiations, initiated in June 2007, had not made any progress.

He said that Council resolution 1813 (2008) and the Secretary-General’s report to the Council rejected some unexpected and surprising ideas offered by the Facilitator that international legality should be abandoned in order to substitute it with Western Sahara’s occupation by a foreign force.  Such a “bargain” was offered under the mantle of “political reality”.  If the United Nations had accepted such “bargains” in the past regarding questions of decolonization, the map of the world would look rather different today.

Such ideas advocated political realism to the detriment of international law and required a break with the Manhasset process, as well as a rupture from the legal basis for decolonization, he stressed, adding that they disqualified the Facilitator.  The position assumed by Morocco since 2003 imperilled the holding of the referendum it had endorsed.  The continued illegal exploitation of natural resources and political repression in Western Sahara made the impasse even more serious and placed the region on the brink of tension and conflict.  No one could deny that the issue was on the Special Committee’s agenda.  Western Sahara could not become an exception to the rule concerning the right of peoples and colonial countries to self-determination.

Question of Guam

SABINA FLORES PEREZ, an indigenous Chamorro woman, stressed the urgency of protecting her people’s human right to self-determination in the face of intensified militarization by the administering Power.  Guam continued to play a crucial role in the economic and military defence scheme of the United States.  The current plan of intensified militarization, estimated to cost $15 billion, had been developed without the informed consent and against the will of the Chamorro people.  It would further transform the island into a forward base, following the establishment of Global Strike Force, the refurbishing of Naval Base Guam to enhance its capacity to support nuclear aircraft carriers, the construction of an army base to serve as a Patriot ballistic missile defence task force and the planned construction of a highway solely for military purposes.

Noting that those plans included the scheduled initial transfer in 2008 of 8,000 United States Marines and 9,000 dependents from Okinawa, she said the projected influx of 35,000 military personnel, their families and support staff from other parts of Asia would result in a 23 per cent population increase over the next six and a half years.  It would alter Guam’s demography, further marginalizing the Chamorro with absolutely no guarantees that their right to self-determination would remain intact.  Furthermore, Lieutenant General Daniel P. Leaf, Deputy Commander of Pacific Command, had stated in 2006 that United States troops had a constitutional right to participate in Guam’s local elections.  That was an example of United States policy regarding local governance.

The military build-up on Guam contravened the administering Power’s moral and legal obligations to protect the indigenous population’s human rights, she said.  The island’s water, power and port were under relentless privatization pressure, all within the trust of the administering Power.  The local population’s livelihoods had also been impacted by persistent and cumulative exposure to military contamination.  At least 78 toxic sites had been identified for clean up from past military activities, and countless others were hidden.  Local water resources in close proximity to military bases were seriously compromised by the administering Power.  For example, Andersen Air Force Base sat atop the northern aquifer supplying 75 per cent of Guam’s drinking water.

Describing the dire situation of the population, she said the military influx, promoted as the panacea to the local Government’s economic woes, was exacerbating living conditions for many residents.  Twenty-five per cent of the residents were below the federally defined poverty level, while rents and housing prices had skyrocketed beyond the reach of many local people, who were on fixed or low incomes.  The Chamorro were at serious risk of losing control of their homeland, as green areas and significant ancestral burial sites were bulldozed and developed for housing and tourism.  The United States Department of the Interior had taken an active role in inviting foreign businesses to build up Guam’s military-based economy.  “Let’s be clear.  Massive militarization is not development in the best interests or with the consent of the indigenous people of Guam and is in violation of the administering Power’s ‘sacred trust obligation’ under Article 73 of the United Nations Charter to ensure our transition from colonization to freedom.”

She said the military build-up would forever secure the political and cultural dispossession of the indigenous people of Guam, who were reminded time and again that they were “less than human and mere objects” by policy-makers and military leaders of the administering Power, including one Captain Douglas, who had stated bluntly: “People of Guam seem to forget that they are a possession and not an equal partner.”  The Chamorro were requesting relief from the violence that the intensified militarization brought.  The Special Committee must live up to its mandate and end its current policy of “colonial accommodation”.  It should give top priority to the inalienable right of the Chamorro people to self-determination; work with the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in reporting on the decolonization process at its eighth session in 2009; denounce the administering Power’s “hyper-militarization” of Guam as a breach of trust; and implement measures to increase the coordination of United Nations agencies towards decolonization, providing corrective measures against the current and cumulative impacts of colonization and militarization.

Question of United States Virgin Islands

JULIETTE CHIN, presenting a statement by Judith L. Bourne, President of the United Nations Association of the Virgin Islands, said the lack of substantive positive movement on decolonization in the twenty-first century was a travesty of the Special Committee’s purpose, attributable largely to the indifference of some administering Powers, which sensed that Member States were no longer interested in real decolonization.  A significant part of that was due to the inaction of the United Nations system, which had failed to carry out, or had inadequately carried out, the activities that the Special Committee had directed it to carry out in its annual resolutions.

For example, she said, in its resolution of 27 May on the dissemination of decolonization information, the Special Committee had referred to the information leaflet entitled What the United Nations Can Do to Assist Non-Self-Governing Territories.  However, that document gave no insight on the agencies providing the assistance to which it referred.  It was thus of questionable value, yet the resolution projected it as a major contribution to the dissemination of information on decolonization.  Also, when queried in 2007, the Department of Public Information had been unable to give any indication as to whether the information had ever reached the Territories.  Yet the resolution recognized the role of United Nations information centres in disseminating information to them.  That was but one example of the disconnect between what the United Nations system said it did and what was actually done.

In the United States Virgin Islands, she said, awareness of the actual political status options available to the Territory’s people was virtually non-existent, despite decades of resolutions on the creation of education programmes on that issue.  “The inability of this Committee to require the United Nations departments to actually carry out Committee decisions is nothing short of tragic.”  The Special Committee had referred to the current constitutional convention as progress towards self-determination.  Setting aside the fact that the United States law authorizing the development of a local constitution clearly delimited its scope to the confines of the present colonial relationship, a recent exchange illustrated both the abdication of any responsibility by the administering Power for the political education or development of the Territory and the lack of an informed consciousness there.

She said that, following the Governor’s request for technical assistance funding from the administering Power to fund the convention’s expenses, the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary had responded: “Because your drafting of a constitution is an exercise in self-government, we believe it important that the entire effort, including the financing, be accomplished locally.”  That response was in derogation of clear responsibilities of the administering Power.  Clearly, a refusal to require action on the many valuable activities mandated in the Special Committee’s annual resolutions was to turn aside from its stated purpose.  The United States itself had acknowledged to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2007 that there had been no changes in the political status of any of the United States-administered Territories.

“Is there a new purpose to simply legitimize status quo colonial arrangements as some new acceptable form of self-government, contrary to the real situation on the ground?” she asked.  “What happened to the case-by-case analysis, which the Committee adopted, which would have provided details on the current colonial arrangements?  What happened to the Plan of Implementation of the Decolonization mandate, endorsed by the General Assembly, which called for much needed political analysis to be done by an independent expert?  What happened to the proposal by Dominica at the opening of the Special Committee in February to create a working group to deal with the small territories?”  It appeared that all those proposals, designed actually to carry out the decolonization mandate, had been systematically blocked, while the status quo continued.

Thus, less than two years before the end of the Second Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, she said, the Special Committee produced repetitive resolutions with no apparent prospect of implementation, with the cycle repeating itself over and over, year after year, while the United States Virgin Islands actually moved further away from activities and a mindset that encouraged self-determination.  Perhaps the conclusions of the expert seminar on decolonization proposed by the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues would provide the Special Committee with much needed information on the dynamics of contemporary colonial arrangements.  Territories committed to self-determination were deeply troubled that the United Nations appeared to be ready to abandon the decolonization process at the end of the present decade, declare victory and move on.  The Special Committee was urged to demand that the United Nations system comply with its directives on decolonization.

The Special Committee then approved, without a vote, the draft resolution contained in document A/AC.109/2008/L.9.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.